What’s In Your Pockets?

If I may start with a sweeping generalization, we EMS folk maintain an odd and somewhat dysfunctional relationship with our gear. We love our gear, but we hate it. We chastise others for carrying to much stuff. We chastise ourselves for not carrying enough. Or just not carrying the thing that we could really use right now. (Read vomit bag, seat beltcutter, flashlight.)

There’s a commonly held belief that the longer you’re in EMS the less stuff on you tend to carry around with you. this observation is sometimes extended to paid vs. volunteer personnel as well. I’m not so sure that’s true. There are, however, clearly different styles.

Lately I got to thinking about what kind of stuff the typical EMT responder carries around with him / her. What is considered kosher and what’s excessive? Are there things we can all agree should be in your pocket or on your belt. Are there any equipment gems that I might be overlooking?

To that end I asked a whole bunch of EMS responders from around the Internet and around my system to tell me what they were carrying in their pockets. After editing out some of the more obvious or personal findings (Wallet, keys, Britney Spears fan club cards) here are my not-so-scientific results. Ask your doctor first, results may vary. Here’s what the folks who know are carrying with them. 



Gloves: As a testament to our overzealous pursuit of barrier protection, a full 62% of all respondents carry a pair of gloves on their person. I didn’t think you could get 62% of us to agree on anything. Some use a glove pouch but most of us just stuff a pair in our pocket. Your infectious disease control officer would be proud.


 A Pen: In my straw poll, the pen was indeed mightier than the sword. (or pocket knife for that matter.) 58% of us keep a pen or two or three on our person. However, only 24% report carrying a notebook as well. This leads me to believe that I’m not the only one who does the write on the glove thing. (I know it’s tacky. My therapist is working with me on it.)


A Cell Phone: Surprisingly, only 51% of responders reported or were caught red handed with a cell phone on them. I imagined this number to be much higher. I’m still not convinced that there wasn’t some kind of evasive omissions going on here. Perhaps next time I’ll include random searches in my methodology. Or maybe I could … hang on, I need to take this call.


Trauma Shears: Tied for fourth place with the flashlight, trauma shears my be the true hallmark of the EMS gear ensemble. I can’t count how many pairs I’ve been through in my career. Some lasted days. some hung around for years and years but all of them eventually made their way to someones gear bag or under some patients couch or dashboard. My service now has shears stocked everywhere and I find I no longer need to keep a pair in my belt but sometimes I miss the feel of having them there. I could carry some on my days off. Do you think people would talk?

The Flashlight: Along with the shears, 33% of responders carry some sort of flashlight, pen light or key-chain light with them. The trend seems to have moved away from the big D-cell mag-lite type flashlights that were popular a decade ago toward a more sleek hand-light or pocket friendly pen light. Better for patient assessment, worse for bonking unruly partners over the skull when they make a move on your nachos. (He always takes the chip with the most cheese on it.)


A Knife: From boot knives to flip-jobers (My unofficial term for folding knives. Yes, you can use it too.) 28% of EMS workers carry some form of knife or cutting tool. These are more common with EMSers who couple their duties with some sort of rescue function though they seem to be popular with urban medics as well. After I became a firefighter, I traded in my knife for a multi-tool and never looked back. Is that a Spyderco in your pocket?     


A Medical Pocket Guide: Only 16% of folks reported carrying some sort of pocket guide. These ranged from protocol books to pharmacopoeias to flip guides. Some responders like being able to look stuff up on the fly. I’ve never been to good at referencing info while the call is in motion but I do like to track one down for the occasional med look-up. When that happens I need to hunt down the dude who actually carries one. Now I know who to ask.


 A Mulit-tool: 12% of my survey responding minions keep a multi-tool with them. 32% reported saying the phrase, “Hey, dose anyone have a mulit-tool on them?” at least once this month. (OK, I made that last statistic up.)



 A Stethoscope: A surprisingly few 10% of us report carrying their stethoscope. Perhaps people were thrown off by the “pockets” part of the question. When I wore the BDU style pant with the cargo pockets I kept my steh in there. Now I just keep it in the cab and throw it on before a call. Am I the only one that gets a headache if I leave it around my neck to long?


Other stuff: There were plenty of other items ranking down in the single digit percentages. One or more people also report always carrying lip balm (Some people are addicted to that stuff.), a lock pick kit (?), a cliff bar, a vomit bag, a window punch, a spoon (think system status response), various trauma dressings, a small IV roll (I did that for a while too), a shift calendar, a bible and an MP3 player. (I’m guessing he didn’t like his partner much.)

So what’s in your pockets? Are there any other can’t-live-without essentials that should be on our list?


Related Articles:

You Can’t Give Away What You Don’t Have 

Seven EMS Blogs You Should Read

Patients Don’t Buy Backboards




  1. I love the equipment “straw pole”. its always fun to see what others carry. I must say that I forgot to include cell phone, and wallet in my response. My response also does not include a “shift bag” which may have lap top, DVD player, book, magazines, MP3 player, or other necessities to get me through a long shift.

  2. Funny. I just wrote a post about this, as well.


    And still, the thing I need “right now” is the thing i left at quarters or in my bag in the truck.

  3. Awesome article! Bummed I missed the go-around to contribute to the poll. I could have used this during EMT school to figure out what to buy 😛

    I’m still working on a system of what exactly goes in what pocket for fast retrieval. I’m still in that phase where it’s a bit disorganized, and no matter what pocket I go in to pull something out, tons of gloves tumble out!

  4. Augustine says:

    I keep my blackberry, wallet, gloves, pens (has to be the G2) and a ziploc with baby wipes. Occasionally I’ll carry my EMS guide.
    I always forget shears because there is always back-up shears in the airway bag.
    I wish I could find a small mag-lite to carry.
    I could never get comfortable carrying a multi-tool in my pocket. I also never take my personal keys with me. I leave those at the station.

  5. Steve Whitehead says:

    Ah ha! John gives additional credibility to my suspicion that the cell phones were overlooked and underreported.

  6. Steve Whitehead says:

    Courtney, I’m sorry we didn’t get you in there. For now, the best way to make sure you’re in the next poll is follow me on twitter.

  7. Steve Whitehead says:

    Medic 7, you’re very specific about what you put where. That’s an interesting tip for efficiency. I wish I could say I had my pocket use that structured but I don’t.

  8. Steve Whitehead says:

    Augustine I went through the same evolution with my shears. Once they were in every kit and rig I just didn’t need them on my belt anymore.

    My multi-tool goes in my bunker gear. I can’t carry one in my pocket either. In fact I just can’t carry anything in my back pockets anymore. I must be getting old.

  9. as a critical care medic i find myself having a tough time managing the multiple cables, hoses, and wires on my cot all the time, so in one of my back pockets i carry a small (non-life safety) carabiner and a two-foot loop of 5mil accessory cord. comes in very handy all the time. this is of course in addition to my blackberry, wallet, keys, pager, knife (benchmade auto-stryker), flashlight (surefire 6P), gloves, shears are in a bunch of places on the truck… therefore not in my pockets

  10. I carry a lot of crap, gloves ,shears, personal boo boo/ gsw kit with trauma dressing and tourniquet. Why? Because if you’re in the extremely unlikely situation where you get hurt then the scene isn’t secure and you might not be getting help for a while, and bleeding out could be quick. Applying self aid that’s on your person rather than what seems like miles away in a bag or a truck could mean the difference. Then a Gerber oxygen wrench/ knife, cell phone, Leatherman, and cheap led light on the belt. Wallet, keys, informed pocket guide and some hand sanitizer, maybe a n95 mask.

  11. As to the pocket guide I installed the app on my iPhone so I will never be without it and I love how its setup!


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